Sunday, February 28, 2010

The top 5 marketing mistakes of Dubai #2: One way communication

The dawn of social media has made one thing very clear:

Communicating with your consumers is a two-way street.

Thing is, it wasn't social media which invented this. Social media simply highlighted it to such an extent that it is now an entire sub-industry in marketing.

No. The two-way street rule of thumb has been around for ages, and it was known by many names: CRM, service quality, customer feedback, etc. Brands that thrived with making sure this worked for them included Adobe (who listened and communicated actively with their core audience: creators themselves); Fox News (love 'em or hate 'em, they have a strong core audience base); Christian Science Monitor, Wikipedia and others.

And this is where Dubai failed. It has always been a one-way street. Dubai Inc.'s 'Board of Directors' would say something, and would be convinced that this is what the populace wanted. There has never been any way to give feedback except by 'lip service' links on government portals that used catch phrases like 'we want to hear from you'.

Yeah right.

Dubai almost made it happen with the Metro. Brilliant work delivering everything on 9/9/9. Wait...'everything'?

While promising that word, they instead released a 30% completed network, have delayed phase 2 by a year and a half, and are still struggling.

How is this a reflection of communication? The biggest consumer base for the metro was and still is Dubai's mainstream population of over 2 million. For 2 years, they waited believing Dubai is finally delivering the goods. And then this. Now Dubai has 2 million or so consumers who never cease sharing the negativity with their families and friends worldwide which could have easily been avoided.

Dubai doesnt' need bad press more than it has, but it just isn't learning.

Lesson: Put your mouth where your money is, and your money is in your consumers' pockets. Speak WITH them, don't talk TO them.

Solution for Dubai: Finish the metro quicker. And then brag about finishing the metro quicker. Highlight what you HAVE completed and make a big deal about it to your residents. They will then do the talking for you.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The top 5 marketing mistakes of Dubai

So someone had to do it.

You know, I might actually be kicked out of Dubai for this, but on the flip side, I might even be commended.

Either way, it doesn't really matter. Everyone's thinking it, at some point someone would've said it in public. After Mishaal Al Gergawi's article which I shared in an earlier post, I think its safe to offer constructive criticism.

So here it is, the top 5 marketing mistakes I think Dubai made. Feel free to comment, and also feel free to provide your own criticism of my 5 choices. If you feel there are others, add them!

I'll be listing them one a day, just in case I think of something new to add.

Mistake #1:
Promising something and delivering something else

It all began not at the boom of the property era, not when Emaar promised to deliver the tallest tower in the world and not when Nakheel said it would create not one, but three palm shaped islands in the sea.

It began with the Dubai Shopping Festival over a decade ago.

Surprised? Not me.

I've lived in Dubai for 12 and a half years, and back in the day the DSF was the most awaited event for local residents and tourists from around the world.

Everyone wanted to win a Lexus a day, a million dollars and a another Lexus the next day!

But it didn't last. Dubai definitely is a shopping haven, but after doing it for so many years, the DSF hardly registers in anyone's mind worldwide and if it does, no one has the dispensable cash anymore to fly here and then buy here.

The Global Village has changed location 4 times. AquaFantasia (that water marvel by the Al Rostamani Group), DinoLand and the Bungee Jump are all gone and fondly remembered. People miss that.

Lesson: Make sure your idea is sustainable, then market it like hell. NOT the other way around.

Solution for Dubai: Bring back what people loved. You have an existing customer base that feels nostalgic, they WILL return. No one cares about the biggest mall. They care about how you make them feel (thank you Seth Godin).

Did You Know 4.0

And here it is, the final video upload of today, tying in straight to Click 4.0 - The Digital Marketing Event for the Middle East.

Did You Know 2.0

Video 2 of my sharing blitz...

Social Media Revolution

Some people still feel that social media is a fad, a 'new toy' for 'those teenagers', something that'll be gone once the 'next big thing' comes along.

Forget it. This IS the next big thing and its now a part of your life, whether you like it or not.

My advice? Get with the program. Because even if you want to ignore it, its not going to ignore you.

Remember that friend of yours who never wanted to get onto Facebook? He's on there now. How long will it take you?

YouTube - Social Media Revolution

- Social Media Revolution

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Facebook Arabia

So I was at the launch of Facebook's Arabia advertising presence.

They've partnered with Connect Ads which is a group that's in partnership with MSN.

MSN and bing are really going forward with Facebook aren't they? Lets see how Google retaliates.

Anyway, how it works for Arabia based advertisers and brands is that if they want to advertise on Facebook more than simply buying a banner or side panel, they can contact Connect Ads which is basically going to specialise in offering the different solutions Facebook has.

And boy, do they have solutions! I loved the case studies Mark Cowan of Facebook was going through, especially the Virgin Airlines, McDonald's, Dove, Starbucks ones.

Lesson learnt: Facebook is like Steve Jobs - constantly thinking.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Link dot net and facebook doing advertising in the Middle East?

Had a lunch meeting today with the marketing director for linkdotnet which is MSN in Arabia.

They just launched Facebook advertising and the official press launch is tomorrow at Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

You bet I'm going.

Mark Cowen's going to be there, definitely going to try and get a minute with him.

So, Facebook is teaming up with MSN and linkdotnet, while Google launches Buzz and is using Double Click to advance its ads.

Its going to be messy in Dubai in 2010. Not that it already isn't.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Click 4.0 - Trying to be different?

I'm constantly hearing that the region lacks a good digital marketing event that actually delivers.

Talk about a challenge.

It'll be interesting to see whether the Middle East's marketers - particularly in Saudi Arabia and the UAE - take notice of all that's really different and unique and most importantly worth talking about at Click 4.0.

Calling it 'The Digital Marketing Event for the Middle East' sounds quite arrogant, but then us marketers have only ever been so.

Flip Media, Spot On PR, Burger King, Jumeirah, Procter & Gamble, HSBC, all talking about digital marketing?

Trust me, this is only the beginning, things are about to get quite interesting.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Gulf News' columnist takes on Dubai censorship on media

Easily one of the best articles I've read from a marketer's perspective about Dubai.

We ALL as marketers knew this was coming. Question is, what will we - both expat and Emirati - marketers do about it now that we need to be accountable for it.

Remember, good marketing is responsible marketing. We owe Dubai.

LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace Coming to Outlook

LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace Coming to Outlook

Friday, February 19, 2010


i was at lamcy plaza this morning. Lamcy is one of the biggest malls in dubai and is quite popular with the middle income bracket of the people.

While walking through the place a bright red sigh caught my eye. It wasn't the colour of the sign but the words on it that did it:

75% SOLD

That intrigued me since its quite rare that a store like this one can be that sold out. The store in question usually sells low cost formal wear but was more famous - notorious? - for its strange coloured tshirts.

I went for a closer look and the sign then made sense:

75% (and then in small font) of people love rainbows and that's why clothes in rainbow colours are sold.

What an awesome way to tell a story.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dubai discovers oil

Is it really the discovery of the year?

Or, as I personally assume, the PR stunt of the year?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Check your gmail

I like the term best practice. It makes one feel like they're doing the best they can according to industry standards.

That's why I wonder why marketers sometimes confuse best practice with trends.

Take the current trend among direct digital marketers today:

Their subject lines start with a personalisation of the first name of someone they're targetting.

Yesterday I was clearing out spam from my Gmail account, and I realise that 90% of the emails there began with my first name personalised into the subject line.


When did you last check your email stats to see this?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Jesus HTML Christ!

I met up with a friend yesterday who leads a youth ministry at the largest Church in the world - one that caters to approx. 300,000 regular Churchgoers.

Yes, 300,000. More than the entire population of a suburb of Dubai.

We started speaking about not just local but regional issues with regards to dwindling numbers of youth at the major offerings this Church has for that age group. After an hour of breaking it down to its core issue, we came up with a single line which is the foundation of all marketing today:

The game has changed, because the players have changed.

Pepsi realised that its core target audience is not watching the Superbowl on TV anymore but is actually following it on social media sites like Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. So they switched the millions of dollars it would have spent on ad costs to social media marketing instead. And now they're reaping the benefits of being 'in' with the youth.

So too, do Church ministries need to take spreading their Good News online. Completely. Its no longer a matter of having a cliched Facebook page with a nice 'hook' slogan, or a smart stock photo. Its not about making a teenager in charge of 'handling that online marketing stuff for the group'.

Its about finally realising and taking the soul-plane online.

God bless your keyboard.

Tired of emails

This afternoon, like countless afternoons earlier, I received a marketing email from a company I'd never heard of, selling me something I've never had an interest in and can much less afford, from a marketing firm that's starting to annoy alot of people. is a firm that sends out marketing emails either by partnering on events where they barter their email service, or where companies pay them to send out their email campaign.

That's all well and good, until they send the same email 3 times in 10 minutes.

There was definitely a noted difference when I complained: they reduced it to 2 emails instead!

This is something to be wary and careful of as a marketer trying to get the word out through different media channels: remember to sign on to these vendors' newsletters, lists etc, get copies of everything they send out so that you are in your customers' shoes when they receive your campaigns.

If you're getting annoyed, chances are they're not just getting annoyed, they've already blocked you. Is it any wonder, then, that leading email tracking softwares register a minimum of 10% unsubscribes on every single e-marketing campaign?

And as for, I believe Click 4.0 - The Digital Marketing Event for the Middle East should do a case study on them titled how NOT to digitally market.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Bean there, done that

Sorry, I simply couldn't resist that, doubly cliched as it may be, considering I'm talking about coffee in this post.

Over the weekend I met up with friends from a social network I'm a part of and we decided to go to Caribou Coffee.

Now, I'm not trying to sell Caribou Coffee's attributes here, I was simply reminded of something Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in Blink and which was expounded on by Seth Godin.

Tell a story, and make the first impression.

When I walked in, I was immediately greeted by their staff who opened the door for me, and as I walked over to the counter to place an order, the counter-staff asked 'would you like to remember your evening with a hot beverage or a cold one?'

That got me thinking. I hadn't thought of something like this at all, all I had initially thought of when I entered was getting a drink, and I expected the typical attitude and monotonous scripted dialogue the counter-staff usually ask.

Now they'd caught me off guard and forced me to think in a split second what I wanted out of my evening - or at least the coming two hours.

I started imagining their hot latte's taste in my mouth with the view of the sunset over Qasba Canal in Sharjah, or perhaps their ice-blended macchiatto while I watched the fountain as I spoke with my friends.

Do you see what happened here? They made me think not only of my evening, but WHICH OF THEIR COFFEES would I want with my evening. They made me think of the taste which only they as Caribou Coffee would offer.

Needless to say, I changed my status on Facebook to 'I love Caribou's service', and in a couple of hours got 13 'likes' and 2 of them asked 'Why?' to which I obviously had to respond with details.

What I'm trying to say here is: talk about your product like it is a part of your consumers' lives already, not like its something that is GOING to be a part of it.

If they perceive an existing relationship, even if there isn't one, they may well cross that threshold of buying from you to solidify said relationship.

Take that, Starbucks!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Buzz words

So Google Buzz went live 2 days ago, and I for one wanted to try it immediately.

My last blog post about Google's entry into Twitter's turf was a bit skeptical, but I've learnt to accept Google's many forays because it does on a very large scale what most marketers should always be doing:


The questions I had - and was answering in my head anyway - were what if Google fails on this, and what if it succeeds, or even better: what if it trumps its own social network site: Facebook?

In the end, the one answer I got was: so what? Either way, Google wins because despite it acting like a kid with a large lego set constantly creating either great works of mechanics or something your robot-dog dragged in, people talk about it.

And you ALWAYS want people talking about your brand.

Coming to the product: I like Buzz. I think Buzz has potential.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I've noticed many marketers forget one critical factor when getting into social marketing:

They forget to socialise.

You have to be someone who socialises and in that socialising pays attention to and is alert to the personalities, slang, jargon, time people take in the bar's toilet, everything about the people who 'socialise'.

Unless you know what makes people tick in their daily lives, you won't be able to market to them socially using your various tools.

Seth Godin says in All Marketers Are Liars that the best marketers don't sell, they tell stories.

You can't tell a story until you know the characters and the underwear they wear, if that.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Is Google God? Or just a new China?

So here's the news from

Google will tonight (February 9, 2010) launch an initial version of its rival to Facebook.

Counter-productive? Counter-intuitive?

An extremely smart move to capture the silent market?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Is Pepsi trumping Coke on new media?

First, it was a brilliant viral+CSR campaign by Pepsi to embrace social media with their new website.

Then, they give up the multi-million dollar-costing, multi-multi-million viewer-reaching campaign after 20 years and instead are investing all their marketing efforts in social media.

If the world's most competitive brand embraces social media this way and in the process has already beaten its arch rival and world leading marketing firm in this area, learn from it.

I'm not going to argue that Social Media is here to stay and blah blah blah, because no one argues anymore that email is here to stay.

Its a given.

What remains to be seen is how many people still call it a fad.

Facebook has more users than that entire population of the United States, and there are more video-hours uploaded onto YouTube in one day than have been created by NBC, ABC and MGM in their entire history of filmmaking.

Chew on that.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Burj-eoning cliches...

Its hilarious how the marketing industry works most of the time.

When patronising something, go all out, but if the subject you're patronising suddenly becomes the object of ridicule, go all out ridiculing it, and once its the darling of the masses again, patronise once more.

Burj Dubai was the darling of the masses - and hence marketing folks - in Dubai and worldwide for the better part of 4 years. Enter Mrs. Recession, with her excessive shopping on credit which she never intended to pay back since what she was buying never existed in the first place.

Burj Dubai became the muse of pipe-dream stories attributed to the Emirate of Dubai. Everytime there was a new story about old loans related to Dubai, the image in the news article would inevitably be of the Burj.

You could spin it any way you want, but the atmosphere was evident: people loved hating Dubai, and Burj Dubai was their bulls-eye.

Enter January 4. Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum unveils what can easily be described as the greatest opening ceremony in construction history. It was as if Babel was built once more, and succeeded. Naming it the Burj Khalifa was even more of a marketer's dream and PR guy's worst nightmare, but it worked.

Overnight, every article on the planet would - even if it couldn't say a nice thing about the Emirate itself - drool on the Burj and its opening.

And then, the facebook status.

Without naming the executive of Publicis in Dubai who did it, the status was simple: 'Burj Khalifa, Dubai's middle finger to the world'.

This status, from a single facebook entry, became the hottest status on the planet related to Dubai, and even entered the Financial Times' editorials. It began a tweeting frenzy, and countless others copied it. It trended like hell. Got folks talking, became the new Dubai buzz.

One status changed the mindset of millions.

Marketing at its best. And free at that.

Friday, February 5, 2010


Once upon a time a marketer wanted to start a blog that would make him a million bucks, put his name on the top 10 list of greatest marketing gurus in the world when someone does a Google search and crown him the social marketing king of the world.

This is not that blog.

HOWEVER, you can help me make it that blog :)